Lava Lake was my second solo winter hike. I’d never been on the trail before and spent a lot of time preparing for this trip. I wanted to know exactly where to park, where backup parking would be, where the bathroom was located, what the trail was like. I was happy to have been so informed. It eased my nerves and made the trek more enjoyable.


The trail is mostly straight…and uphill. The elevation change is more than 1600 ft over 3 miles. The trail has very few switchbacks. This is a trail that I would definitely take trekking poles and lots of water.

It was on this trail that I started to take what I call Sensory Hikes. On these hikes, you walk for a while focusing on your five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, touch). I would often pick one sense to focus on. “What do I hear for the next mile.” It was really incredible to watch my senses come alive when I was consciously engaging them. I’ve done it enough now that my body is conditioned to recognize all of them on a hike. I will often journal specifically about the sensory aspect of a hike. It was also an incredible distractiion when I was tired, out of breath, and in pain.


Two miles into the hike I ran into several people who were descending. They provided words of encouragement and reminded me that I’m almost there. It was so valuable, and now I try to encourage others on challenging hiking trails. The last part of the trail has more switchbacks. And the peak is absolutely breathtaking. 

The lake was frozen and snow-covered. I found a log to sit down, enjoy lunch and soak up some sun and rest before heading down the mountain. I took time to celebrate my accomplishments:

  • Hiking a very challenging trail
  • Hiking alone
  • Hiking in winter

I was proud of myself, excited for the journey I had made, and what was still to come.


Location: Custer Gallatin National Forest (south of Bozeman, MT)

Level: Moderate

Distance: 6 miles (roundtrip)

Elevation change: 1,620

Parking: Small lot located at the base of the trail. A larger lot is on the other side of the Gallatin River.

Bathrooms: Pit toilets are located at the base of the trail.

What to wear: Pay attention to the weather. I went on a snowy day and I wore layers of clothes, a hat, scarf, gloves, and hiking boots. I would say hiking boots are a must. I really benefitted from hiking poles. And if you are going in cold weather, pack the spikes. It was really helpful to have them when I got to the icy patches on the trail. You may not need them the entire time, but they are very light to pack just in case.

What to pack: Water, trekking poles, snack

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